The CRTC’s review of commercial radio stations in Canada

The CRTC regulates the approximately 720 commercial radio stations operating in Canada, under the 1991 Broadcasting Act. Since 1991 the CRTC has reviewed its policy for commercial radio seven times (compared to zero reviews of its policy for Indigenous broadcasting and for public broadcasting):

A Review of the Content Requirements for Canadian Music on Radio, PN CRTC 1992-32 (Ottawa, 30 April 1992)

CRTC internal task force’ 90-day review of radio policies and regulations, resulting in A Review of the CRTC’s Regulations and Policies for Radio, PN 1992-72 (Ottawa, 2 November 1992)

POLICIES FOR LOCAL PROGRAMMING ON COMMERCIAL RADIO STATIONS AND ADVERTISING ON CAMPUS STATIONS, Public Notice CRTC 1993-38 (Ottawa, 19 April 1993)

A Review of Certain Matters Concerning Radio, PN CRTC 1995-60 (Ottawa, 21 April 1995)

A Review of the Commission’s Policies for Commercial Radio, Public Notice CRTC 1997-105 (Ottawa, 1 August 1997)

Review of the Commercial Radio Policy, Broadcasting Notice of Public Hearing 2006-1 (Ottawa, 13 January 2006)

Call for comments on a targeted policy review for the commercial radio sector, Broadcasting Notice of Consultation CRTC 2013-572 (Ottawa, 30 October 2013)

At the beginning of 2020 the CRTC announced it would be holding a proceeding to review commercial radio in Canada (Broadcasting Notice of Proceeding CRTC 2020-25). In November 2020 invited comments to be filed by 1 February 2021 (a deadline that was extended to 29 March 2021): Call for comments – Commercial radio policy framework review, Broadcasting Notice of Consultation CRTC 2020-374 (Ottawa, 1 November 2020). The CRTC announced that it would be surveying Canadians about commercial radio, and on 23 February 2021 published the results of this research (received by the CRTC on 18 December 2020).

The issues mentioned by the CRTC’s notice of consultation include programming types (paras. 39-48), news and local news (para. 80) and employment. At the beginning of February 2021 the Forum asked the CRTC about any studies it may have undertaken or commissioned since 2014 about commercial radio in Canada, and received the answers to its questions today (26 February 2021):

  1. Analysis of the types and amounts (hours or percentages) of programming broadcast by privately or publicly owned radio stations in Canada: none (A-2020-67)
  2. Analysis of the amount of original local news broadcast by radio stations licensed to large ownership groups: none (A-2020-66), and
  3. Analysis of employment opportunities (as mentioned in section 3(1)(d)(iii) of the Broadcasting Act): none (A-2020-67).

One of the differences between courts and quasi-judicial tribunals such as the CRTC is that judges must make their decisions solely on the basis of the evidence before them. (Judges may also take ‘judicial notice’ of some types of evidence not presented to them, such as atlases and dictionaries; the categories of such information are limited by caselaw.) The CRTC, as an expert tribunal, is by contrast entitled to rely not only on the evidence it hears but also on its own knowledge and expertise.

The question raised by the CRTC’s acknowledgment that in the past seven years it has neither studied nor commissioned research about the types of programming, the amount of local news and the employment opportunities at commercial radio stations is this: whose evidence will have the greatest impact on the CRTC Commissioners reviewing commercial radio policy. That of interveners, or that of commercial broadcasters?

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